Court battle may lie ahead
Hours after the city closed on the Northland Mall property last Friday, a petition with 820 signatures landed on a desk at city hall.
The petition is the second such effort to slow down or stop the plan to bond for about $22 million to finance the construction of a municipal campus at the mall site.
Former Mayor Stev Stegner distributed the results of the first petition – 478 signatures – at last week’s joint meeting of the City Council and Economic Development Authority.
“That was non-binding,” said local Realtor Cameron Piper, who has been involved with both petitions. “If you will, we were trying this in the court of public opinion.”
Piper and others were subsequently moved to start an official petition under state statute 475.521 with hopes of forcing a referendum.
Piper knew of the closing by Friday afternoon, but still hoped city leaders would choose to listen to the concerns of the petitioners.
“Failing to do so, I guess there’s always the court option,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone’s resolute about going there, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
The group has retained attorney Fritz Knaak out of White Bear Lake.
Piper said another 208 names were being presented Friday afternoon, and estimated that about 80 percent of the public he came across supported the petition.
City Administrator Aaron Parrish acknowledged receiving the petition. He said it would be up to the council and EDA to determine what deference the petition should be given, but also noted that the city’s bond counsel provided confirmation that the petition holds no merit because the city’s plan involves revenue bonds.
“The city of Forest Lake will not be utilizing the statutory authority set forth in Section 475.521 and will not be issuing General Obligation Capital Improvement Bonds…,” wrote Mary Ippel of Briggs and Morgan. “Therefore, the requirement to hold a public hearing…is not applicable.”
Parrish noted that the closing took place last week rather than this week due to holiday scheduling issues.